The American Dream Is Not Dead


Populists on both sides of the political aisle routinely announce that the American Dream is dead. According to them, the game has been rigged by elites, workers can’t get ahead, wages have been stagnant for decades, and the middle class is dying. 

Michael R. Strain, director of Economic Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, disputes this rhetoric as both wrong and dangerous. In this succinctly argued volume, he shows that, on measures of economic opportunity and quality of life, there has never been a better time to be alive in America. He backs his argument with overwhelming—and underreported—data to show how the facts favor realistic optimism.

He warns, however, that the false prophets of populism pose a serious danger to our current and future prosperity. Their policies would leave workers worse off. And their erroneous claim that the American Dream is dead could discourage people from taking advantage of real opportunities to better their lives. If enough people start to believe the Dream is dead, they could, in effect, kill it. To prevent this self-fulfilling prophecy, Strain’s book is urgent reading for anyone feeling the pull of the populists. 

E. J. Dionne and Henry Olsen provide spirited responses to Strain’s argument.

About the Authors

Michael R. Strain is director of Economic Policy Studies and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. An economist, his research has been published in academic and policy journals and he has edited two books on economics and public policy. He is a research fellow at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) in Bonn, Germany, writes regularly for popular audiences, and is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. Strain is frequently interviewed by major media outlets, speaks often to a variety of audiences, and has testified before Congress. He holds a PhD in economics from Cornell University and lives in Washington, DC.

Credit: Washington Post

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a Washington Post columnist, professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a visiting professor at Harvard University. His latest book is Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country (St. Martin’s Press, 2020).

Credit: EPCC

Henry Olsen is currently a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a columnist at the Washington Post. He has worked in senior executive positions at many center-right think tanks. Olsen served as vice president and director of the National Research Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute from 2006 to 2013. He previously worked as vice president of programs at the Manhattan Institute and as president of the Commonwealth Foundation. Mr. Olsen’s work has been featured in many prominent publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Guardian, National Review, and the Weekly Standard. He is the author of Ronald Reagan: New Deal Conservative (HarperCollins, 2017) and coauthor (with Dante J. Scala) of The Four Faces of the Republican Party: The Fight for the 2016 Presidential Nomination (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).